Question 3: The “Open Space” Scam

In 1998, New Jersey committed a staggering $3 billion to preserving so-called open space by floating more debt and mortgaging our children’s future. While the world was moving away from socialism with aggressive land reforms to allow property rights and markets to function in the area of land-use, New Jersey chose to go in the other direction, consolidating land control in the hands of state bureaucrats. The program has been, by any measure, a failure, falling well-short of its goals, although achieving the tragic “success” of moving over 300,000 acres of land from private citizens to the state.

Nine years later, voters will decide, when we vote on question three – the “Green Acres, Farmland, Blue Acres and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 2007,” – whether we want the state to borrow another $200 million. We don’t have to keep this racket going, including allowing the state to use the power of eminent domain to forcibly take land from property owners.

Being for “open space” might feel good, but it’s poor public policy. Taxpayers cannot afford more debt. New Jersey is the fourth most indebted state in the nation with over $33 billion in debt, has a stagnant economy, and is hemorrhaging population, making the debt burden that much more onerous for those of us who stay in New Jersey. We cannot afford more debt, interest payments, and spending. This is not a time to waste another $200 million on a program that has demonstrated diminishing results.

Home prices are already high, not just because of economic fundamentals but also the high regulatory burdens we place through permitting and environmental requirements. Restrictions on the availability of land make New Jersey even less affordable by decreasing the supply, which requires the state to spend more on future land purchases as the central planners continue to advance there agenda. This also erodes the property tax base by moving land from taxable owners in the private sector off the tax rolls and into government hands.

As local property tax rolls are depleted, there are two possible outcomes, either property taxes are raised on the remaining private property or the state provides so-called hold-harmless funds, as the Act suggests. But that’s not a solution, because it means passing these costs to taxpayers statewide. Another effect on our society is the most disturbing. Supply and demand will force up the cost of land and the one family home, the American Dream, slips further out of reach for many homebuyers. This is what Trenton’s social engineers want, pushing residents into high-density, government subsidized “affordable” housing.

Proponents of the Act claim that it doesn’t contain a tax increase But, it will lead to one, both because of the costs of servicing the bonds and state-aid to make up for lost local property tax revenue. The Act contains language that would result in an automatic tax hike when the state legislature fails to fund the bonds – which means raising taxes, since offsetting spending cuts are unlikely from this legislature. The tax hike would be an increase in the property taxes in every municipality.

Worst of all is that property acquired under this socialistic land reform program would not necessarily be voluntarily sold by its owners. The Act establishes four separate trust funds – green acres, farmland, blue acres, and historic preservation. Only the trust fund for blue acres, which refers to areas in flood plains, is restricted to purchases from willing sellers.

For the other three funds, the Act is explicit that one of the powers the state will use to “acquire” property is to seize it through the power of eminent domain. Giving the rampant eminent domain abuses we’ve seen, providing funds to be used this way is dangerous.

Taxpayers have been conned into spending a staggering sum on open space preservation bonds and additional “Open Space” taxes with little to show for it other than a mountain of debt and higher property taxes. The most important environmental aspect to question 3 regards not the natural but the fiscal environment – taxpayers can’t afford this bond measure and should vote against it November Sixth.

Steve Lonegan is the Mayor of Bogota, NJ, and Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity – New Jersey. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. He is a prolific writer, having been published in newspapers and blogs. He just published a book, Putting Taxpayers First: A Blueprint for Victory in the Garden State, that discusses the impact of the Trenton government on the well being of the taxpayers of the state. He offers solid and workable solutions. Learn more at lonegan.com.

Question 3: The “Open Space” Scam